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What is an Internet Spy?

By Rhonda Rivera
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term Internet spy typically refers to something or someone that is monitoring activity on a computer. Most often, the term is used to talk about software designed to capture screenshots of what a person is doing online, or log all text a person enters into the keyboard. This type of computer software is frequently used to steal credit card numbers, passwords, and other private details. Occasionally, it is used to catch a cheating spouse or monitor the activity of a child to ensure their safety. An Internet spy may also refer to someone who physically — rather than remotely — looks through someone else’s computer files to view what websites he or she has been visiting and conversations with other people.

Internet spy software is often downloaded when a person is trying to download other media, like desktop wallpaper, videos, or games. The malicious programs are bundled into the media and can start gathering data as soon as it is accidentally opened. Malware like this can sometimes be avoided by being very cautious about downloading new files, and reading reviews written by other downloaders, if available.

A reputable anti-virus program can usually spot an Internet keylogger or other software application designed to spy on someone. The program should be set to automatically scan the computer every day or so to quickly delete suspicious files. Installing an anti-virus program that is reputable is especially important because some malware programs are designed to look and act like anti-virus programs while either subtly doing harm or being blatant by demanding money to fix viruses that do not actually exist. For example, Norton™, Kaspersky® Lab, and avast!® are generally well-known and respected names in the anti-virus business, while Advanced Anti-virus Remover, Personal Anti-virus, and Anti-virus IS are widespread fake programs.

As for an Internet spy that is an actual person looking through private files on another person's computer, this can usually be avoided by password-protecting the computer. Typically, when a computer is password-protected, it cannot be completely booted up without the user entering a password. When using the Windows® operating system, the user can also set the computer to enter screen-saver mode after being idle for a certain amount of time, then require a password to exit. In conclusion, no matter how an Internet spy tries to steal information or snoop, whether that spy is a nosy human or a simply a software program, there is usually a way to counter the method.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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